Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The World Service

The BBC World Service is 80 years old today (Given that it's February 29th, that means it's only had 20 actual birthdays, I presume).  Anyway, in a slight diversion from the usual matter of this blog (ie periods of nothingness interspersed with incoherent rants about stuff that bothers me in small town Romania), I thought I would mark this milestone by saying how great the BBC World Service is, and how many years I spent in which my short wave radio was my most prized possession.  It genuinely was one of the things I had to check anytime I went anywhere - money, ticket, passport, radio - that was the list.

Anyway, I listened for years to the BBC World Service (and the fact that I can download things like Analysis and From Our Own Correspondent on podcasts now is somehow not the same thing. They're still good radio programmes but something about the medium and the vehicle of the radio clutched to the ear, with the elaborate wires and things attached to the aerial to try and enhance reception, is just something that I'll never forget, and I think always miss a little bit).  The fact that I can have news from anywhere in the world at my fingertips at any time in various different formats these days is just ... not the same.  (In other forgotten methods of obtaining news from home, does anyone remember Reuters teleprinters that you could find in the lobbies of expensive hotels?  They were brilliant too, though not quite up to the standards of the BBC World Service)

Anyway, just as with the internet, much of my dedication to my shortwave radio came with the need to keep up with English football.  Every Saturday afternoon (or whatever time of day English Saturday afternoon was in whichever country I was in) you could find me twiddling the dial, fine tuning the signal as I listened to comforting snatches of home telling me about the driving rain at Portman Road or the advertising hoardings at Ibrox.

My most vivid memory though was in a tent just outside the Masai Mara in Kenya listening to the 1994 World Cup Final from California at about 3am. I had headphones so as not to wake my girlfriend, but the signal kept drifting in and out. Despite the fact that the match was terrible (I am told), I could not go to bed - this was the World Cup final after all.  At one point through the crackle I heard this almighty roar, which was clearly not from the crowd, but from outside the tent.  I decided staying put was possibly the best idea (and anyway if I'd gone outside Sod's Law dictates that I'd probably have missed a goal).   In the morning I learned that a lion had wandered through the campsite in the night.

(A much more amusing anecdote about the World Service from my friend Ken Wilson, can be found here)

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